As part of the 87th Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society, Cecilia Livingston will join colleagues Will Robin (University of Maryland), Ana Alonso-Minutti (University of New Mexico), Alice Miller Cotter (University of Califonia, Berkeley), and Alejandro L. Madrid (Cornell University) in a panel presentation called “Better Off Dead? Challenges in Researching Living Composers.” The panel will take place on November 11, at 10amEST. Abstract below, and more information on joining the conference at


Better Off Dead? Challenges in Researching Living Composers

Musicologists have long debunked the stories that composers construct for themselves. But what happens when those composers are still alive, and part of the research process itself? Scholarship on living composers blurs boundaries between archival research, oral history, and participant observation. It can also complicate traditional approaches: living composers may maintain extensive personal archives to which they grant only limited access, and they may seek an editorial role, supervising what can and cannot be said about them. What happens when research complicates or repudiates the stories that these composers have long told about themselves? How can musicologists maintain a commitment to ethical ethnography––taking the concerns of interlocutors seriously––while also avoiding duplicating their self-mythologization?

In this panel, each participant will present a brief case study in their research on living composers, followed by discussion. Will Robin will address his scholarship on the Bang on a Can festival, including how he incorporated feedback from its founding composers into his manuscript about them, and attempted to maintain critical distance from an organization that remains active today. Based on his experience writing about Tania León’s compositional voice, Alejandro L. Madrid will discuss strategies to approach music analysis as a counterpoint that incorporates the composer’s own take on her music as well as listening regimes that may depart from that interpretation.

Female scholars are often accused of becoming too close to their subjects. Addressing her research trajectory on Mario Lavista, Ana Alonso-Minutti challenges academia’s heteropatriarchal expectation of objectivity by elaborating on her experience of writing as an affective practice. Alice Miller Cotter, who has worked extensively with John Adams’s archival materials, will examine the unavoidable technical and human problems of how to attain an ethical balance between respecting the privacy of the individual subject and adhering to the integrity of the findings. Cecilia Livingston will reflect on the peculiar critical and ethical balance of writing about living composers (e.g. Benjamin, Adams, Cerrone, Norman) as a “living composer” herself, and examine how her professional experience of opera creation (e.g. at Glyndebourne) gives her scholarly work on opera an unusual vantage point.